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This Day In History: June 25th
Despite being viewed as a fairly progressive nation, Canada did not elect the first Black member of Parliament until the 1960s. Trailblazing politician Lincoln Alexander was able to break the color barriers within Canadian politics on June 25, 1968.
Canada was often deemed as a refuge for African-Americans escaping captivity using the Underground Railroad during the mid-1800s. However, the country still had room for improvement in the area of social equity and Lincoln Alexander consistently worked to obtain equal treatment for Black Canadians during his tenure in office.
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander was born on January 21, 1922, in Toronto, Canada to Caribbean parents. He spent several years in Harlem, New York before returning to Toronto in 1939 and joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1942. Alexander earned a bachelor’s degree at McMaster University and continued his academic pursuits by enrolling in Osgoode Hall Law School.
In 1965, he was given the honorary title of Queen’s Counsel by the Ontario government. The 1960s was also a period of shift for Alexander, as he developed an interest in politics and made his first bid for office in 1965. He unsuccessfully ran as a Conservative member of Parliament (MP) for Hamilton West. However, just three years later he became the first Black Canadian to sit in the House of Commons on June 25. He became a leading voice on issues of labor and housing.
Alexander was re-elected to four terms and served a total of 12 years. He remained active in politics and became the first Black Canadian to serve in a Cabinet position in 1979. However, Alexander resigned the following year and was appointed as the chair of the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Board. By 1985, he had his sights set on the role of Lieutenant Governor. On September 20, 1985, Alexander was sworn in as Ontario’s 24th lieutenant governor, adding another ‘first’ to his list. While serving as lieutenant-governor, his advocacy centered focused the youth and elderly population in addition to combating racism.
Following his time as Lieutenant Governor, Alexander served five terms as chancellor of the University of Guelph before retiring in 2007. The politician also published his autobiography, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy in 2006. Alexander died six years later on October 19.